On Jan. 29, 1,676 volunteers organized by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless covered 4,000 square miles of San Diego County to provide a snapshot of homelessness on a given night for communities, service providers and policymakers.
In San Diego County, 8,692 people were found homeless, 1 percent less than last year. However, the count includes a tally of the sheltered and unsheltered people. The unsheltered increased 18.9 percent from 4,156 individuals in 2015 to 4,940 in 2016.
Other cities in San Diego County also saw a rapid increase in their unsheltered homeless population. In Escondido, it more than doubled (112 in 2015 to 225 in 2016), in Oceanside it went from 137 in 2015 to 292 in 2016, and in Santee, from 30 to 63. Encinitas experienced a decrease (18 percent less), as did Imperial Beach (46 in 2015 to 12 in 2016.) In Lemon Grove, the amount of unsheltered homeless people remained relatively flat, as it did in the City of San Diego as a whole.
San Diego is in the process of moving the focus of its attention on homeless people from transitional housing to Housing First, the federal program that prioritizes providing people experiencing homelessness with permanent housing as quickly as possible. Ruth Eruland, Chief Program Manager at Father Joe’s Villages said this has caused the unsheltered homeless population to increase.
“Housing First is such a great concept, to move people very quickly from the street into apartments, but it’s not new dollars. The dollars that used to go into transitional housing now are going into Housing First. That means there’s no money for transitional housing,” she said, forcing more people to sleep on the streets.
Eruland explained that the high price of San Diego’s housing rental market is another factor. “As homeless services providers, every single night our beds are at full capacity, and our movement to permanent housing isn’t as fast as we would like it to be because of the competition.”
La Jolla resident Andrew Arroyo is the founder of Eye of a Needle Foundation, a non-profit that partners with other organizations to offer homeless people services.
“Living in La Jolla, I have a special place in my heart for the homeless people here, and many of them I’ve tried to get to know and understand their situations and walk with them. I try to help them check into the rescue mission or get help if they’re on drugs or alcohol,” he said.
Arroyo explained that in La Jolla, the increase in unsheltered homeless people is due to the proximity of the Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare services at 3350 La Jolla Village Drive. “A significant part of the homeless population I’ve met in La Jolla are Vets. This is heart wrenching to know that men and women who have fought for our country are now living on the streets of San Diego.”
He also identified panhandling as a possible reason for the homeless population rise. Arroyo concluded, “With the amount of traffic going in and out of La Jolla daily, it is a prime location for panhandling, especially since many La Jollans are generous and give frequently to those in need.”
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